What’s the best kind of chapter? I’d like some feedback.
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the virtue of short chapters. It struck me at first as a pretty superficial discussion.
I just finished Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn and thought the (generally) short chapters worked beautifully, and this was not a superficial read. I’m also reading a literary horror novel with very long chapters. Despite my preference for nice, meaty chapters and despite the amazing writing, it’s trying my patience. The author seems to be indulging himself.
I know there’s no golden-clad answer here. Nonetheless, I’m wondering if I’m behind the times.
Is our internet window on the world teaching us to consume stories and facts in bite-sized pieces? And even if not, are we just too busy to read eleven pages before head hits the pillow?
Don’t worry, just write
But, you say, aren’t chapters as long as they need to be? Shouldn’t they at the very least be an entire scene? And aren’t those scenes driven by tone, genre and the forward needs of the plot?
If so, the answer is: Don’t worry already, just write it.
But when I step back from this question and think a little harder, it’s not so cut and dried. After all, if we set out to write a hard hitting, tight read, we might well let the pacing goal influence the length of scenes. It might put us in a mind set that might suggest an even better story. There are lots of ways to tell a story, even your story. The choices the author makes are not inherently correct. So an author might reasonably ask, should I write ’em short or long?
Now, don’t get all organic on me. I believe you if you say the scene “just comes to you” or that you “uncover” the scene, buried (Stephen King-style) in the fertile ground of your mind. I get that, but is it best? Just because its natural doesn’t mean it’s a better scene, that it involves the reader more intensely. Civilization puts many constraints on what’s natural, and with good reason.
Immersion or drowning
The long, twisty chapter in a rich, colorful world can be seen as a lovely immersive experience, or it might just be too damn much when what the reader craves is moving forward.
I’m taking a poll here, not to come up with a right or wrong answer, but just because I’m curious what readers of my books think. (Or readers of SF/F anyway.) I tend to write longish chapters, leading the reader into the heart of things, providing what I hope is a vicarious experience, akin to being there.
If you follow my blog, you probably generally tolerate that style.
But are there times where you’d just like to say, come on, Kenyon, get a move on?